During the Great Cultural Revolution in China, Mao Tse-Tung unleashed the Red Guard, young people of high school and university age, upon the country in an effort to purify the revolution. Young people were basically encouraged to victimize anyone considered ‘an enemy’ of the revolution. A reading of history shows that this was a mistake of catastrophic proportions, and one from which China suffered for several years.
Young people who had spent the days, months and weeks of the campaign victimizing others didn’t easily return to peaceful, productive pursuits. In addition, the emphasis against imperialist courtesy was causing problems for China’s commercial sector as late as 1983 when I first went there to work as a new diplomat. Common courtesy from people in stores and restaurants toward customers had been indoctrinated out of China’s young people. There were also problems of increased domestic violence as an entire generation that had been raised in violence grew to adulthood.
Other leaders have mobilized young people to support their political agendas. Some, in fact, still do; engaging young people in violence and intimidation against opponents of this or that regime or political party.
When I was growing up, I often heard old people say, “put a snake in your pocket, and it will bite,” and “if you teach a dog to bite, one day he will bite you.” Training young people in the ways of violence can lead to similar disastrous consequences. The biblical injunction, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it,” holds as true for negative training as it does for positive virtue. When young people are schooled in violence as a means of solving problems or settling disputes, they grow into adults who have the same philosophy – to the detriment of their society.
Politicians who exploit youth in this way are, wittingly or unwittingly, creating a demographic crisis that will at some future date surface to haunt them and their nation. The use of violence to advance a domestic political agenda is wrong; to use young people to do it is despicable. Instead of teaching the young the use of violence to achieve their aims, political leaders should be teaching them the skills necessary to be productive, law abiding citizens. They should be implementing policies that create jobs so that young people can make their own way and grow up with a sense of self worth and self respect.
Those who create these young ‘dogs’ of war, and teach them to bite, shouldn’t be surprised when one day, they get bitten.